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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - Intergender


    It seems no matter what I do today, Iím always in the middle. One of the big debates in wrestling lately has been intergender wrestling. Some time ago I saw a large spate of tweets on the subject which I assumed was spurred on by a specific card (or series of cards) that had put the question squarely in the public eye. But as time has gone on it seems like thereís always something of a rumble, an undercurrent even, that seems to be going on somewhere. In fact, unless there is a backlog Iím not seeing then a quick look on Twitter suggests the vast majority is a constant need to justify what people are doing. The volume of tweets to that effect seems to massively outweigh people questioning intergender wrestling by at least three to one. But still, even if that unscientific impression is right, we know that it is something that some people are strongly against and that this is a big divide in the modern wrestling world.

    I am not a puritan in this debate. Naturally I have my opinions but they could not be considered extreme on either side, for or against. What occurs to me, though, is that when you boil down beneath the surface matter and look at the nature of the arguments themselves it is not so much about men wrestling women so much as it is about the way that you look at wrestling itself. Fundamentally, it comes back to that old divide between wrestling as something inherently sports-based and wrestling as Ďsports entertainmentí, or a theatrical diversion in a fantasy world.

    Sure, there are some exceptions to that which will have leapt to your mind. I donít think you need to search for that long to find some objections that are rooted in misogyny. There are people who donít want to see women wrestling against men because menís wrestling has traditionally had a higher profile and they just point-blank donít want women getting into those kinds of roles or that kind of spotlight. That is unfortunate, in and of itself. And then there is the other side of the coin, the people who believe that thereís actually something really quite reactionary about seeing men hitting women. Advocates of intergender wrestling play this down a lot, but it doesnít go away as simply as they would like. I donít claim that this is my area of expertise but I know a lot of people who are better qualified to comment than almost anyone on the planet, and they are all Ė at best Ė uncomfortable with the concept. Itís not as simple an argument as the relation that some people try to draw between violence and video games, because believe it or not these people are actually good at their jobs and know what they are talking about in both of those cases. I comprehend the point that fans of intergender wrestling make about showing the two genders going at it in an equal relation, but what they are guilty of here is wishing away the potential problems related to something they like. The fact is itís a much more nuanced situation than they are willing to recognise, and when people say that there is definitely no problem with it they take a reasonable position and overstate it to the point where they have made their argument untenable.

    Now, with that said I think these two views are very much in the minority. Iíve addressed them merely to get them out of the way, because most of what I have seen and heard comes from a very different place. That suggests that the real difference in opinion between both groups is between those who treat their wrestling as sports-based, and those who donít. I noticed a tweet from a wrestler who remarked that she is amazed by the number of people who hate intergender wrestling that love movies and TV shows were women and men fight each other.

    And there-in lies the rub, because to many people wrestling being just another TV show or movie is part of the problem with the way wrestling has developed. To them, wrestling should not be Buffy the Vampire Slayer of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but something that blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality far more than those shows ever do. And yet, despite this fairly obvious plank in their philosophy, the more you dive into it, the more you see the trend emerge in peopleís explanation. The first thing people tend to reach for is to point out that wrestling is a performance, and that the punches donít hurt; All perfectly reasonable arguments in and of themselves.

    In doing so, though, they talk at complete cross-purposes to the fans who are objecting; I think if weíre going to be honest about it theyíre often guilty of actively talking down to the fans who see it that way. Quite often Ė far too often in my opinion - an argument will turn into an accusation of sexism, and there seems to even be a presumption that the other side of the argument cannot be informed by anything but sexism. But for me this is one of those cases where taking the time to understand the other perspective is actually vital if there is going to be any kind of meaningful conversation.

    Let me give you an example of how the sporting perspective is informed. The fastest woman in the 100m (at least, to never be seriously considered a likely doper) is Carmelita Jeter, the American, whose best time is a remarkable 10.64. Iím willing to bet Jeter is faster than everyone reading this, and that pretty much any Olympic female athlete will be better than the vast majority of men on the planet at their discipline. But, at the same time, Usain Boltís menís world record for the same event is more than a second faster, and every menís semi-finalist at the last Olympics ran it faster than the fastest time ever run by a woman, Florence Joyner-Griffithís much-debated run in 1988. To note that even the fastest women could not compete with the fastest men seems not so much sexist as a fairly clear fact. Similarly, the world weightlifting record for similarly-sized men and women is around 60kg in favour of the men.

    Again, each of those women at the Olympics can probably lift more than anyone reading this and double what the majority could even attempt, but there is a world of difference between a blanket statement such as Ďmen are faster/stronger than womení, and recognising that at the elite end there is a biological difference that will skew in the favour of men. And that matters because the person who believes that wrestling is supposed to be a sport will not only be looking at the physical characteristics of stars as things that matter (ĎLuger has size but Flair has staminaí), but will also usually hold that we are meant to believe that the actual wrestlers are supposed to be presented as amongst the very best in the world, at the elite end in the same way that Usain Bolt is in his sport. Youíll notice that no one ever had a problem with Baby Doll beating Jim Cornette or Beulah whipping Bill Alfonso Ė the problems for people started when it spread to the active roster and you had things like Sable powerbombing Marc Mero. If you believe what you hear, Steve Austin was on the phone within minutes to cancel a proposed run of matches with the Marvellous one, because, he argued, if Sable can do that why would it take me any more than five seconds to beat the guy?

    In one key respect it is interesting, because itís actually the move towards a more fantastic style of wrestling that creates its own challenges. If thatís a little hard to follow, what I mean is that when wrestling was not meant to have punches and kicks in it, it becomes much easier to imagine two evenly sized wrestlers of different genders working with each other. Relaxing those rules has actually produced more situations where they become less likely to convince, because while a certain amount of hold-for-hold is plausible enough, once strikes enter the frame it should favour men far more strongly. If you think that the best thing is to win the traditionalist fans over, rather than chasing them out of wrestling, then there is an irony here as one aspect of modern wrestling works to hinder the acceptance of another.

    You might think after reading to this point that I am on the one side, especially if you know me well enough to know that my own opinion does trend towards treating wrestling as sport. But, as I said earlier on in the column, I am no fundamentalist in this area. I express the sporting argument here because I think it is the one that needs making. The other side, the Ďwrestling is a performance and in a performance you can do whatever you wantí, is a pretty uncomplicated argument that seems to me to be self-evident. Within its own framework it makes sense, the only question becomes about whether the framework itself is really the best thing. To me it stands to reason that wrestling was more successful when it wasnít seen that way, though Iím the first to admit that only tells a fraction of the story when we discuss this issue today.

    But despite my own philosophy and the way you might expect me to lean, for my part I am sure there are ways to do it well. The increased number of punches and round kicks in wrestling do make it more challenging than it would have been, but this is no deal-breaker by itself. The big issue for me is size, and so itís sort of the problem I had in doing things like booking Rey Mysterio to beat The Big Show, only magnified a number of times over. As we know, though, there are ways around that, and it is the same in this case.

    I actually thought that you could put someone like Chyna against men, and it could work. It certainly meant that Chyna was seen as a force when she did wrestle with women, and it gave her a whole other presence that no other woman really had in the Attitude Era. I certainly have no issue with a Nia Jax or an Awesome Kong being put in there with men, and I think itís actually a pretty good way to get them majorly over. Ronda Rousey clearly has an aura, and the crowd going wild for everything she has done to Hunter in their matches (including at Wrestlemania) prove that her background means people are totally going to buy into it with her. To not capitalise on that seems to me to be a grave error, although I question WWEís ability to keep the embers burning on that one. Even so, the basic principle holds and I believe that managed correctly you could get the same sort of thing with Asuka, and maybe one or two other women as well.

    I wouldnít even like to say thereís a definite cut-off point at work here either, because far more things than mere size are part of the equation. Thatís a big thing for sure, because it should be in menís wrestling and I tend to shit on anything that ignores obvious physical factors. Ronda Rousey, however, isnít massive, and she did manage to get that kind of reaction out of Triple H, who has more than 100lbs on her. But generally speaking, I would say a Sasha Banks, a Carmella or an Alexa Bliss against a male wrestler with 80+ pounds on them is going to strain the bounds of credibility. And, at that point, you are going to lose the fans who want it to look like sport. In a similar point, as other things take precedence in wrestling you do get people come through who do not look and move as if they are great athletes, and they will not play well with that group of fans either. Pointing to male wrestlers that donít fit the mould probably wonít help your case either, because they are far less likely to be into the tiny, stringy-armed flippy guy, in my experience.

    Finally, I guess Iíve got to raise the last point since it gets trotted out a lot: those of us who want to see wrestling in that sporting context should naturally be entitled to our opinion, but does that mean this alternative is Ďkilling the businessí? Itís an emotive phrase but I think the easiest thing to remember is that the real, honest-to-goodness wrestling business was killed long ago. Thereís a faintly silly thing in its place that tries to pass itself off as pro-wrestling but itís not the same thing. Thatís why I canít get on board with people such grand claims, because the kind of business weíre talking about when language like that is invoked has been dead for some time. Intergender canít kill something that is already lost to time, but it might have a valuable part to play in Ďsports entertainmentí, once the Ďlame ducksí of the traditional wrestling business finally move on to other things.

    In the end I think this comes down to a simple rule that applies to a lot of things in wrestling: context is key. Hard and fast rules are generally a good way to take a valid thought or opinion and transition into stupidity in short order. For my part, there is a way to do this that Iíll accept, and a way that I wonít. But as someone who Ė again Ė finds themselves caught in the middle of two different perspectives, Iíve come to a few conclusions about the whole thing. I think itís important that one group makes more of an effort to understand where the other is coming from if theyíre going to try and engage with it, while the other recognises that people working in wrestling today can only work in the business as it is today, and not in some hypothetical version that we dream up. But so long as one group insists on defending it as Ďfake so itís fineí, and the other criticises promoters and wrestlers for doing things that seem to make money in the wrestling business, then the conversation will never go anywhere productive. And lord knows, some more productive talk and a few less people shouting their own opinions into the abyss in the wrestling world would be no bad thing.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    The Brain
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    As you know I'm a big proponent of intergender wrestling, but I do recognize that it's not going to be for everyone for a variety of reasons. I'm definitely of the live and let live mindset as far as the question goes, and I'm only bothered by those who come out in vehement opposition that the concept be allowed to exist at all. That group is probably small relatively speaking, though they can certainly be loud!

    At the end of the day it's definitely about the sports vs. entertainment question, as you say, and I think it's a great if somewhat sad point that the "sports" end of the equation is very much in the minority in terms of what is actually presented these days. I gravitate towards the more outlandish stuff much of the time but I really do enjoy the more straightlaced stuff from the past, and I wouldn't at all mind seeing a more even balance introduced to the modern wrestling scene. I guess it's a bell you can't unring, to a certain extent, but I think it could be done. Whether it would still draw is questionable... maybe if given time, but who is going to fund that experiment long enough to find out?

  3. #3
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    It's possibly also worth noting that even in sports where the physical advantage of being male isn't part of the equation, women still compete separately and the elite women are often only equivalent to the lower ranked males. Sports like snooker and golf for example. Absolutely no apparent gender related advantage, yet they still perform at different levels.

    To the best of my knowledge, the only sport which does allow male v female competition is motor sports. But how many women actually make it to the top? Not many. OK, there is an argument that there are simply less competing which is why there are less that make it to the top level, but when the top level is Formula 1 even that is questionable. You can qualify for the necessary super licence with a fairly average record in the junior formula, which several women have, but still none have earned a race drive in living memory. Why? They simply aren't good enough. When you consider how many of the male drivers get into F1 due to equally average records backed up with lucrative sponsorship deals, you'd think the corporate sponsors would be kicking the door down to get a woman they could sell at that level. The truth is, they are. The team that finds that top level female driver will be able to get blank cheques signed by their sponsors. There have been a few examples in recent years where the sponsors have succeeded in getting women a role as test driver, but despite having the necessary finance none have yet managed to translate that into a full race seat because they have proven to be not good enough. Much like with all the other sports you discuss, the limit of female competitors has proven (to date) to be equal to that of a lower ranked male. Still better than the likes of you & me, but not enough to compete with the elite.


    Moving on to wrestling, the main statement for me in this discussion is where you say "context is key". When that context is a Chyna or some of the other examples you mention, the context is acceptable. Chyna did well in the mid-card and threatened to break in to the main event, but for the most part any time she faced a man from the upper ranks she didn't come out victorious. I think that would be true of all of them (this one is a fairly vague memory, but didn't Kong enter some tournament where she beat Road Dog in the first round then lost in the next match once she had some real competition?).

    With Rousey, she may have done OK against HHH in their meetings to date, but that was just brief encounters. If they were to have a genuine 1 on 1 match it just wouldn't be believable if she got in more than a little offence before HHH won through.

    Regardless of the fact we know wrestling is scripted, it is still presented as a sport. That presentation has to have an element of believability, and if too many women start getting victories over too many men that believability disappears.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Mizfan - I suppose I tend to think that it only shouldn't exist if you're going to be doing it badly. But then, I think anything outside of the 'main roster' for the lack of a better term probably shouldn't exist if you aren't going to do it well. I've never been a fan of having a division for it's own sake and think that you need to take something seriously if you are going to do it. Then again, I don't feel as if there's ever a valid reason for not taking something seriously either, so... yeah. It's a bit of a negotiation, that one. Like, the current point is about getting women on the NJPW cards. Now I'm not against it, but I don't want them to do it for the sake of it. If it's going to happen, I'd rather it was done well. Similarly, WWE women's matches in 1999-2000. More often than not I think it did more harm than good, and entertained very few people.

    As to the bringing an 'older style' back.... I think the comment I just made to Shane in the other feedback probably still stands. Yes, but I do think that genuinely speaking some of the more outlandish stuff hurts their ability to do it across the board. You can't ever have a 'wrestler' with the draw of a Sammartino, I think, when you know that somewhere across the way there is a Woken Matt Hardy, wrestlers going back in time, and Joey Ryan doing dick flips. That's not to say a show couldn't work, of course; I'm largely still holding onto wrestling in the hope that it can. But even with the idea that maybe it could work, I'm pretty convinced that the two can't co-exist in a completely neutral relationship. The one is always going to affect the other. The only way to maybe do it would be to start it off as a shoot - basically MMA but with less strikes and in a wrestling ring - and after a few years gradually transition it back into a wrestling style more like you saw in the 1950s. But even that's a reach, and there's no telling whether anyone would even believe it when it was a shoot, which would be the saddest thing really.

    Billington: The only bit I don't agree with in the first two paragraphs there are the idea that it's questionable, because in sports like that there's no real biological component. Maybe motor racing, I guess, could have a biological component that I'm just not anticipating - but there are so many variables in that I even baulk at comparing it to other sports. Certainly in the other sports I do know, such as darts and snooker and golf, I think there's a couple of simple questions. One is mathematics - the number of women is less than the number of men so the odds of a top talent being higher in the men are better. I don't think that's questionable so much as clear, personally. And the other thing which is just as important is the social element. It's a lot easier for a young boy to spend time in a snooker club (or wherever), it's probably more welcoming, family members are more likely to understand them spending so much time, they are more likely to be encouraged to get into it early, and in some cases while there'd be money at the top end, there's more money in the men's grassroots than there is in the women's. So on the one hand you've got a mathematical bias and on the other hand you've got a system not only skewed in favour of recreating that percentage increase, but in keeping the playing field uneven when they do get there.

    Now, with that said, that's a very 'intellectual' argument for the lack of a better word. The simple truth is wrestling is about perception, so if the main reason to not book men and women as equals is because it kills the credibility of the man with a casual fan... my argument would do nothing to do that. Even if all that is true (and I believe it is) then a woman who'd be subject to all those things going toe-to-toe with a man would still make the man look worse to that fan, which obviously then in the aggregate hits his ability to draw with the casual fan. There's other questions that come into play then. Are there enough casual fans left to make it worth not doing? Should wrestling be ignoring that, as a scripted medium, to try and put forward more of a social point? Not questions that are going to have easy answers, and there'll be people on both sides of it I think.

    As to the wrestling argument - I actually think that Ronda has such an aura coming off of MMA you'd be surprised how much you can get away with in her case. You'd still probably want to be a bit careful in how you put something together but I'd actually trust Hunter to know that, as I'm not sure many have been better at that than he is. And for some reason, even though wrestling gets dafter and dafter, the MMA thing carries so much weight now, it's like people are crying out for a bit of legitimacy. But even with that said more often that not I'd be looking to put her against someone who weighed 180lbs or so, rather than one of the big guys.

    I don't know of the Kong match you're talking about there, though that doesn't mean it didn't happen of course. The only match I know of her having against a man was against Jesse Godderz.... which is one of the cases where I was advocating her winning it, to be honest. With Jesse being essentially little more than a bump machine at the time and not someone who I felt was ever going past the Impact midcard, I didn't see a downside to it. Build her up, and he'll be bumping like crazy for someone else next week.


    I do wonder how much we can say it's still treated like a sport. WWE certainly feels as if it's only treated that way when they want to, and as if there's more non-sporting than sporting elements. NJPW ignores it's own rules too much to really be that way. Last time I saw Impact a lot of it felt like a low-budget movie and RoH feels like some weird kind of theatre. So I can't help wondering if those of us who really do prioritise sport are just... men out of time, as sad as it is to think about.



    Anyway, thanks both for reading.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by DynamiteBillington
    To the best of my knowledge, the only sport which does allow male v female competition is motor sports.
    And curling! This year, at the Olympics, they introduced mixed curling. And only 5 Olympics after they introduced the entire sport altogether. But they've been doing (relatively) high-level mixed curling in Canada for quite some time now. It worked really well. To be fair, in most places, curling is probably about as popular as paper-airplane-throwing-contests, but disregarding that...

    Prime, I think you hit the nail on the head - when it comes to wrestling, it's all about context and presentation. And I have to think most would agree with that. Rousey's presentation and the situations in which she has been in WWE thus far have been great - allowing her to highlight her strengths, picking spots to get multiple ones over on Triple H, but also highlighting the areas in which she can be targeted - the match against Nia, for instance, had the commentary team reminding of that Rousey had only ever fought women her size before, so Nia gaining advantages in the size department were perfect. All the while, it looked like Rousey would be victorious. Fantastic presentation so far.

    I'm not sure if you were responding specifically to things/takes/opinions I haven't seen; at one point, you almost seemed particular and pointed in your "defense". Again, though, I agree 100% with you.

  6. #6
    The Brain
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    Really glad you made the social point, Pete. The biological element is there but so many women are heavily encouraged to give up athletics and competition in general, who knows what top talent never even makes the attempt because of the hurdles that are in place.

    And this is more the exception than the rule, but I also find it completely believable that Rousey would tear Triple H's arm off and beat him to death with it.

  7. #7
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Regarding the mathematics element of the number of women involved in those sports, couldn't the same be said about Wrestling? Purely based on WWE roster (I don't know enough about independents etc) the women's roster is so much smaller than the men's, the argument probably is valid that if the rosters were the same, finding that break out star and achieving ultimate equality would be easier to achieve.

    The social elements of the other sports I mentioned is certainly a valid argument, but then surely that would also be true of wrestling? I have no idea where you'd go here in the UK to get into wrestling. From what I understand, it is a sport that US schools and colleges teach, but do they have female divisions? Would that social element come into play where it's more acceptable for a guy to do it than a girl? Asking questions here, no idea what the answer is.

    Got to admit, I went into the most detail with motor sports because it's one I know more about, and the male v female discussion has come up in Formula 1 a few times in recent years as women have put a crack in the glass ceiling to a certain extent, but never broken it and certainly haven't made it as far as the brass ring. Danica Patrick is someone who often comes up in that discussion as she's had a certain amount of success in the more prominent American race series, but even though she has been known to take the fight to the men she still hasn't become the top dog.

    Definitely got to agree with one thing though: If anyone could make Rousey look good in a male v female match, it's Hunter. At the stage he's at with his career, it wouldn't hurt him either. However, if she was to start taking on the guys regularly? I don't buy it. Someone like a Seth Rollins could also make her look good, but if he was to take a loss I think it would hurt him too much. Then you have to consider whether or not she could take the likes of Brawn Strowman, and the answer would have to be a flat out No.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Skul - yeah there probably is a bit of pointed stuff in there, because I was replying to some things on Twitter that had annoyed me. You know how it is, you're only ever a couple of clicks away from someone spouting shit on the internet! But yes, it was very much inspired by the way that things are currently being framed elsewhere. If you're not seeing that on Twitter, I'd suggest not looking for it because it's kinda irritating. But glad you enjoyed and thanks for reading!

    Mizfan - You have to make the social case, I think. As you say, who knows how much closer the gap in certain things might be if the way it was organised was different. And I'm totally with you on Rousey/Hunter. The odds of her catching him are pretty small but if she did she's got the knowledge to break his arm, I'd say!

    Billington - Yes, I think you are right that in that the social elements would also apply to wrestling, though whether or not you need to build that into stories or whatever is starting to move into some interesting territory. Generally speaking sports don't actually like to recognise this inequality and wrestling in particular likes to try and obscure the drawbacks of it's talent. I mean, it's definitely an interesting area when you start going down that route. Personally I think the balance comes down to, you are going to lose some fans as the male performer in that set-up, and the question for the promotion becomes is it worth it for what you can do in turn for the female star. I'm not sure, yet, that there are enough fans of it in and of itself for their to be much upside for the male performer, outside of a few independent promotions whose fans are minded towards it anyway.

    But yeah, as to your last point, no woman should be getting in there with Strowman. Not ever. Context is key in all things but there's no context in which that is going to work.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  9. #9
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Another great article PT.

    For me I thought intergender just wasn't a genre of wrestling I was interested in for no real thought out reason until I saw 'The Mad Bitch' Vixen at my local indy compete in an intergender match that was as thrilling and as enthralling as any I have seen at that fed. It really made me reconsider my thoughts around it and move beyond my original assumption.

    I guess it all comes down to the level and tone of performance for me, while I subscribe more to the 'performance' side of the equation I very rarely want the performance to be a comedy or push the bounds of believablity to hard within the established bounds of the performance. That includes intergender wrestling where I don't want it to be a comedy, token or sideshow bit, if a company wants to do it then they have to be all in, gloves off and allow the women to go all for nothing with the men.

    Having said that I completely understand why they don't do it outside of very, very rare special circumstances at the top level of a publicly traded company that broadcasts on prime time TV. There is still an undoubted cringe factor stemming from years of treating the women like a sideshow and the unavoidable comparisons made towards misogynistic violence against women however ill informed or hypocritical people wielding those opinions may be. However I would love to see Charlotte V Rollins, Bliss v Gargano , Asuka v Ambrose or Miz v Bayley, just writing them actually spurs so many possibilities in my mind but we will never get to see it happen.

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